Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Backwards Guitar

I was dreading my first reading through the rough draft of the novel. Was I going to think the manuscript was crap, and thus wasted three months of my life? The good news is that this novel flows better than my first attempt at a novel, and will have to undergo minor tweaks. The bad news, well, there is no bad news at this point. I will have to get some fresh eyes on this because I'm way too close to it.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

I'm Not Part of a Redneck Agenda

“None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

“Give me liberty or give me death.” Sen. Russ Feingold (D- Wisconsin) quoting Patrick Henry in replying to Sen. Cornyn

The exchange between Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Feingold starkly summarizes the two contrasting philosophies within the American populace today, and it is Sen. Cornyn's view that truly endangers this nation.

Don't get me wrong. I believe in times of extreme emergencies, ceding a few civil liberties is necessary for national security. But the problem with Sen. Cornyn as well as those who place national security above civil liberties under this "War on Terror" is that they clearly view civil liberties as a luxury. Sure, due process, equality under the law, freedom of speach, and freedom of association make life easier in this nation, but they don't "matter much after you're dead." At least, that is the logic of Sen. Cornyn and anyone who sees nothing wrong with not just the Patriot Act, but with racial profiling, the FBIs spying on anti-war, environmental and poverty groups.

What Sen. Cornyn and those portions of the American populace who agree with his stance forget is that liberty is not a luxury in this nation, but in fact one of the fundamental cornerstones. They forget that the American Revolution was fought in part because many of the colonies did not have the due process afforded to British citizens. And as such, in this nation, national security serves civil liberties. National security is not an end to itself. Or I guess to put it another way, the United States was not founded upon the principles of pure survival alone. That is why Patrick Henry's cry of "Give me liberty or give me death" resonates still today.

Those who will say, “None of your civil liberties matter much after you’re dead,” I ask, "How are we different from Singapore or China if that is your belief?" Now, Singapore is prosperous, clean and almost totally free of crime. But say something against the government, and the next thing you know, you're charged with defaming the state. In China, everything is second to the State, and if you ask the typical member of the People's Congress, they would whole heartedly agree that "none of your civil liberties matter much after you're dead." And they would further explain that this is why their vision of Communism (this latest version a nascent free market without civil liberties) is superior to democracy.

The easy, intellectual lazy comeback to all this would be that the Founding Fathers didn't have jumbo jets flying into their buildings. But the Founding Fathers were fighting for the very survival of the new nation, as much as this nation is now fighting for its survival. Had they wanted to, they could have created a government and enacted laws to enshrine the primacy of national security. In fact, Congress during the late eighteenth century enacted a series of Alien and Sedition Acts purportedly because of national security (though in reality to shut up people like Thomas Jefferson), which lapsed at the end of John Adams presidency and were nevery used. Furthermore, although the Supreme Court never ruled on these acts, the Supreme Court, subsequent mentions of the Sedition Act in particular in Supreme Court opinions have assumed that it was unconstitutional.

Yes, we are fighting for our very "survival." But what Sen. Feingold, Patrick Henry, the much derided ACLU and likeminded folks realize is that "survival" in the context of the United States includes civil liberties. When civil liberties are viewed as luxuries, luxuries are unnecessary at best and dangerous hinderances to national security at worst, then those terrorists who "hate our liberty" are winning. If we can't or unwilling to retain the primacy of our civil liberties while protecting our national security, if we admit that we are a nation that solely cares about our physical existence, then what is the point?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Before you say, "Buh-buh-but Clinton did it!", bullshit. Clinton did not engage in warrantless domestic spying.

Monday, December 19, 2005


In the last entry, I was railing against the inherently contradictory doublespeak in Shrub's justification, which boiled down amounts to "To protect everyone's civil rights, I need to curtail certain people's civil rights." Obviously, you haven't protected everyone's civil rights if you curtail certain people's civil rights. (And for those who say, "Well, these guys were terrorists," the presumption of innocence applies to every American citizen last time I checked. Furthermore, how do you know these guys were terrorists? Remember, this administration listed anti-war Quakers as a threat to national security, so I call bullshit on the "why are you protecting terrorists" pablum.)

The more and more I read and think about this warantless wiretapping program, the more incensed I get, and the more I want to tell people to start critically thinking.

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA), the NSA already had the authority to conduct wiretaps on American citizens so long as it obtained a warrant from a special court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court or FISC) created for this purpose. As stated in the link, over 15,000 such warrants were requested, and not a single one denied. Furthermore, FISA authorizes a FISC judge to allow a wiretap of U.S. persons under one of these four conditions: (1) the target knowingly engages in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of a foreign power which "may involve" a criminal law violation; (2) the target knowingly engages in other secret intelligence activities on behalf of a foreign power pursuant to the direction of an intelligence network and his activities involve or are about to involve criminal violations; (3) the target knowingly engages in sabotage or international terrorism or is preparing for such activities; or (4) the target knowingly aids or abets another who acts in one of the above ways.

FISA also allows for immediate, 72-hour emergency wiretapping without court approval. Should an emergency come up immediately, the National Security Agency can eavesdrop on any person for three days, so long as they receive the warrant after the three days. The only time FISA authorizes a warantless search is if there is no "substantial likelihood" that the intercepted communications include those to which a U.S. person is a party.

FISA gives me the heebie jeebies, but for the sake of argument, let's assume that FISA is the bee's knees.

Now, given that the NSA could already wiretap United States citizens they suspect of planning on blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge for three days before going to the FISC, why would the Administration circumvent the FISC all together? You can't say that the FISC will slow down any emergency wiretapping with paperwork, given that the NSA has three days after it starts wiretapping to seek a warrant from the FISC. And it's not like the FISC was picky in authorizing warrants given that they never rejected a warrant.

Or another way to frame this argument is "Against which targets would the FISC deny a warrant for a wiretap?" The only reason for the Administration to circumvent FISA is if the administration were afraid that FISC would deny a warrant. Given that FISA as well as the past history of FISC gives broad latitude to the NSA to wiretap those supposed Brooklyn Al Queda sympathizers, in which possible scenario would FISC deny a warrant? The answer to these questions should give you a chill.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

American Idiot

Unfortunately, the masses don't seem to get nuanced arguments when it comes to politics. Thus, there will still be people who fall for Orwellian double speak everytime. You can try to explain to them that eavesdropping without a warrant is diametrically and fundamentally the opposite to the concept of civil liberties, but they'll just bluster about "War on Terrorism." (Which in and of itself doesn't make sense--when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, FDR didn't declare a "War on Surprise Aerial Bombardments.") But I digress. Now, one way to get the masses to understand logic and how a statement is totally illogical and bugfuck is to keep the structure of the statement, but replace the proposition with two extremes.

Now, here's part of the AP article on Bush's defense on his authorization of warrantless wiretaps:

WASHINGTON Dec 17, 2005 -- President Bush said Saturday he personally has authorized a secret eavesdropping program in the U.S. more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks and he lashed out at those involved in publicly revealing the program.

. . . "This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power, under our laws and Constitution, to protect them and their civil liberties and that is exactly what I will continue to do as long as I am president of the United States," Bush said.

OK, me again. Now as I said, "secret eavesdropping program" is wholly contradictory to "civil liberties." But Bush is saying the U.S. needs to engage in a "secret eavesdropping program" to protect civil liberties. I guess the supposed rational is to eavesdrop on the supposed bad guys to protect the rest of our civil liberties (though that rationale is the subject for another entry). And a lot of people don't see anything wrong with this rationale (though Senator Arlen Spector gives me hope that Republicans are getting pissed off at King George).

OK, so let's replace "secret eavesdropping program" with something extreme, like "knifing someone in the kidneys." Now, "secret eavesdropping" is totally contradictory to "civil liberties". So what is totally contradictory to "knifing someone in the kidneys"? Well, that would be "not getting knifed in the kidneys." OK, let's see how Bush's justification reads now:

WASHINGTON Dec 17, 2005 -- President Bush said Saturday he personally has authorized knifing someone in the kidneys in the U.S. more than 30 times since the Sept. 11 attacks and he lashed out at those involved in publicly revealing the program.

. . . "Knifing someone in the kidneys is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power, under our laws and Constitution, to protect them and their not getting knifed in the kidneys and that is exactly what I will continue to do as long as I am president of the United States," Bush said.

So to paraphrase in his argument using my replacement terms, Bush is saying that knifing someone in the kidneys is necessary to protect people from not getting knifed in the kidneys.

(And before you start going on to say, well maybe knifing "terrorists" will save everyone else from a knifing, the next question you have to ask yourself is whether you trust the government to decide who a terrorist is. Because this government, more specifically, the Pentagon, had listed an anti-war meeting by Quakers--who are all pacifists--as a threat to American security. So that kidney that may get knifed is yours, fucko.)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Shock The Monkey

Some more on intelligent, or rathter, incompetent design.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A Way Station--First Version

The glade was a large tranquil pool fed by the rush of falling water and surrounded by lush greenery. The canopy of the trees formed a large, leafy dome, making the glade feel like a cathedral. Through it, thin shafts of sunlight like gauze curtains fell onto the water. The air was cooler and crisp, with the vapor from the bottom of the waterfall lazily drifting onto his brow.

He had come to the glade in hopes of healing, or if not that, to relieve some of his burden, to remind him of awe and of things outside of himself. And when he reached the glade after the long journey in between stations, he looked at the sunlight and at the canopy. He listened to the white noise of the falling water and the birdsongs. And he still felt nothing but loss.

When they finally found what remained, all that time later, there was nothing but an old, empty journal and tattered clothing. There was nothing else to suggest that he ever existed, much less the complexity of his life.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I Am Waiting For The Stars To Change

I don't really want to harsh your mellow if you truly are religious, and I certainly do not want to demean your faith. Just think of this as a thought exercise.

When those who propound intelligent design try to use the framework of science and logic, it always seems a bit awkward, like William Hung singing--sure he's speaking English, but not very well. You hear them say, "Hey, the universe is so complex, it must be made!" See, we're using your own "rationality" and "logic" to show you that you're wrong! We're scientific too!

Now, a lot of well respected scientists have debunked "intelligent design" and have shown how intelligent design proponents have taken bits and pieces of real science and contorted them into their own agenda. To use another music analogy, all intelligent design propenents have done is make a mash-up--like that "White Lines" cover that sampled Ronald Reagan's speeches to make it sound like the Gipper was covering Grandmaster Flash. So instead, I'll take a different tact. Instead of talking about rationality, I'll talk about miracles.

The bulwark of "intelligent design", which is just a fancy word for creationism, has always been about faith. And the framework of faith had originally been about the mystery of God, and the miracles that God presents as a testament of his existence and of his benificence. Thus, underpinning religion is this notion of the miraculous, that which cannot be explained by rationality alone (which is why the current use of the rationality framework by, oh well let's just say it, the religious right, seems as awkward as the English language instructions on chopsticks at cheap Chinese restaurants).

So if the basis of your faith is the miraculous and the mystery, then here's a question for you. Which is more miraculous? That a universe as complex enough to lead to intelligent life was designed, or that it spontaneously arose from nothing with no design at all?

(And before you say, "Ah hah, well if you believe that it would be miraculous that the universe arose out of nothing, then you have to believe that the rational explanation is intelligent design," I call shenanigans. In this case, the miraculous explanation of no designer is supported by scientific evidence).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Wave of Mutilation

In High Fidelity (both the novel and the film), the main character Rob drops out of college, ends up working at a record store and generally loses the plot all because of a woman. I can empathize, though not just because of the whole been done wrong by a Jezebelle thing (that comparison would be too easy and as such, a bit too trite as well). Instead, I'm talking about the whole losing the plot.

When you go through your own life, working that nine to five job, living for the first and the fifteenth of the month when that check gets deposited into your account, and maybe if you're lucky, the pleasant chats and the odd back rubs that lead to some rumpty rump, you get complacent. Not necessarily content, not necessarily happy, but complacent. It's that routine that lowers your guard and dulls the mind. And it's only when something unexpected and dreadful gets thrown your way do you realize how fragile that routine is. I keep thinking of a spinning top on a table that gets shaken--before it was spinning in a steady upright position, and not it's just swirling and toppling chaotically. Maybe there's more apropos or clever imagery, but give me a break, I'm just saying shit off the top of my head right now.

So September and October was full of routine. I was writing consistently. I had a sorta kinda relationship. I had a routine. And then at the end of October, the person that I had kept letting back into my heart managed to burn everything down. But still, I kept writing. I wrote the thirty-plus pages that would serve as the ending to the novel then. In the middle of November, I found out that my blood potassium level was dangerously high, and that my kidneys (which had already been significantly damaged by the malignant hypertension) were starting to deteriorate again. At the same time, I caught a bad cold which has left me with a hacking cough that I still have.

I kinda lost the plot these last couple of weeks.

I've been wondering about what I'm going to do with my life. I can go back and do contract work if I need the money, but the legal lifestyle probably contributed to my health issues to begin with. Plus, I fucking hate the law and its endless grind of worthless conflict. And writing, well, most writers have day jobs. In fact, the paralegal at GatewayGig had previously written a published book--and she was still a miserable paralegal at GatewayGig.

And I haven't been contemplating not just the professional aspect of my life, but the social aspect as well. I used to be the intense melancholy romantic, looking for the one who would melt my heart and make it beat faster at the same time, searching for that soul mate over the horizon. And now, well, some time has passed and that hurt, angry part of me was right--I have nothing to give. Well, that's not accurate. I can give a warm body, some clever words, but after that, I'm afraid I'm spent. And if that's all I can give, then really, what is the point?

But the worst thing about the past couple of weeks is that I had lost faith in my writing. It's a horrible feeling to write sixty thousand words (two hundred and fifty pages) and hear that internal voice telling you that you're a fraud, that what you've written is crap, that this isn't the novel you have in you, that you've wasted your time.

I am trying to get it together though. I might as well finish the fifty to forty pages left, and see if it is really crap. If it is, I guess I gotta revise it till it's not, or starting working on another novel.